Newcomer, Veteran Vie for Prosecutor Post

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 1, 2007

Patrick A. McDade, just three years out of law school, knows he can't compete with Raymond F. Morrogh's 24 years as a prosecutor in Fairfax County, with the last 19 years as chief deputy. But as an assistant commonwealth's attorney in Arlington County for the past two years, McDade has studied the Fairfax office that was run by Robert F. Horan Jr. for 40 years and devised two key angles he hopes will mitigate his lack of experience.

McDade (R), 35, said the top prosecutor in a county of a million people needs to be an administrator more than a top trial attorney, and he would delegate tough cases to more experienced litigators. He acknowledged the courtroom skills of Horan, who retired in September, but McDade said Horan had too few assistant prosecutors, 21, resulting in too many plea bargains and dismissals.

McDade's comments initially put Morrogh (D), 50, on the defensive. But once Morrogh took over as acting commonwealth's attorney, he began fighting back in debates and appearances and taking steps to show he would not simply try to ride Horan's political coattails to victory. Within weeks of taking the top position, Morrogh hired five new prosecutors and said he wanted 10 more, numbers that Horan would never have considered.

In a recent debate on Reston cable television, McDade said that Fairfax should have 60 assistant prosecutors to match its size as Virginia's most populous jurisdiction and that the office was operated with 21 because it dismissed or reduced more than 70 percent of felony charges. A state board, however, allocates prosecutors according to the number of felony cases handled in each county.

"What he's telling you is simply nonsense," Morrogh said of the 70 percent claim. He noted that Fairfax prosecutors have a 92 percent felony conviction rate over the past three years.

Morrogh said later that the statistics published by the Virginia Supreme Court overstate the number of felony cases in Fairfax by thousands -- state police statistics showed far fewer cases -- and the misleading figures came from charges by police or magistrates that were not warranted and for bench and fugitive warrants left unchanged.

McDade said he had been contacted by experienced criminal lawyers who would try important cases for him, and he would be the top administrator. "We should be like what people see on 'Law and Order,' where the Fred Thompson person is administrating behind the scenes," McDade said in the Reston debate. "I plan to bring people in like Sam Waterston," who plays the top assistant district attorney on the TV program, to try the top cases.

Morrogh, who has prosecuted numerous murder cases, including that of sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, and often goes to crime scenes, called McDade's plan "faulty reasoning."

"When I get a call," Morrogh said, "I don't go to my Rolodex to get someone to answer questions. I get in my car, go to the scene and make decisions. . . . It's important to have the most experienced person on the job."

Morrogh and McDade have voiced support of a judicious use of the death penalty, and both oppose abusive-driver penalties for felony and misdemeanor traffic offenses. Both endorsed Fairfax Sheriff Stan G. Barry's plan to screen prisoners for possible immigration violations.

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